When I started this blog, it was intended essentially as prep for a career as a psychiatric NP. But let’s go further back. When I was 12 a search for air conditioning at the national zoo led me to dedicate myself to become a behavioral biologist. I worked on the academia-research track for 10 years, until I realized academia was terrible (and also I didn’t get in to grad school). I’d picked up a CS degree to facilitate the biology, and for lack of something better to do I jumped onto the programming track. I found parts of it I loved to succeed at, but was never happy long term.* After another company failed to make me happy, I decided the problem was me and started looking for a new track to jump to, which is how I got to psychiatry.
It’s only 10 months since I started the blog but almost exactly a year since I made that decision. I spent five of those months not working, recovering from/prepping for dental surgery (and there are a few more months to come). This was painful and I would have rather never had these problems, but the enforced break did give me some distance and some time to think. Combined with my volunteer work and reading, this is what I’ve figured out:
- I really, really want to improve adolescent mental health.
- Psychiatrist, or any other mental health job, or any job at all, has its downsides.
- Programming is a rare and valuable skill it would be silly to just throw away. Plus it really is fun when it works.
- I have gotten used to finding programming jobs by throwing a rock and waiting. There’s a lot of them and I interview well. But there is no plug and play position that uses my skills to accomplish the things I want to accomplish.
- So I will need to make my own.
- Beyond mental health, my goals are helping people take care of themselves. I don’t want to detail a particular vitamin, I want to teach people how to research their own vitamins. I definitely can’t do individual doctor recommendations, but I can help people evaluate their own doctors.
In parallel to this, I joined the local Effective Altruism discussion group back in April, and within six months rose to power/got conned into doing 1/3 of the organizational work. I don’t know where I’m going with EA, which as a philosophy applies to anything but as a movement seems to have almost no overlap with the goals I’ve listed above. EA’s big pushes have been in third world poverty (which I care about, but the only useful thing I have to give them is money), animal suffering (which our meeting made me care about enough to give up factory farmed animal products, but still doesn’t fit as a calling), and existential threats like meteors and malicious AI (which intellectually I think are important but I cannot bring myself to have an emotional response about). EA is expanding, which is wonderful, but by design they work on a very large scale, and in some ways what I want to do is very small. And yet, I think it is really important I keep doing it. Even if it all it provides is a social group that thinks saving the world is a good and achievable, that is really valuable. And I think it might be more than that.
So my plan for now is to see what I can do with the resources I have. My primary job is having dental surgery, and that limits my moonlighting options. But I can read, I write this, I can go to and organize EA events (even if I have to leave my own event early from pain and exhaustion). I’ve done some work at crisis chat, and there was a brief window in which I was even able to program.* I’m talking to a local charity that works at the intersection of childhood poverty and education about their best practices, and I’m hoping to turn that into a lesson about how to give when GiveWell doesn’t have the answer. I have an idea for an Android app that looks pretty achievable but doesn’t exist yet, which I’m excited about.
Long term, I want to find a programming job on a project I care about, and I want to be in a position to design, not just implement. Between that, EA, and my own projects I’m hopeful something awesome will emerge. My thinking here is highly influenced by The Economy of Cities, which describes that new industries arise from small incremental changes and combinations in old ones. I think that can work on a personal scale too.
The main implications for the blog are that video game posts will now be considered on topic, and I will stop feeling vaguely guilty for the low number of hard core medical posts.
*This window opened because my pain level was so much lower after the surgery. It closed when the surgical incision in my gums failed to heal/my jaw bone started growing out through my gums, which is intensely painful. But we had a good thing going for a week.